Snapshot thoughts: A cost/benefit analysis (of sorts).

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with some adults and kids, and the talk turned to Trump and Pence. One of the kids asked who he was, so I responded with, “He’s the guy from Indiana who made it legal to deny services to the LGBTQ community.” Boyfriend followed that up with, “To be fair, he made it legal to deny services to anyone; that just happened to be the main outcome.” And then in chimes a known right-leaner who says, “Well, it actually just gave businesses the FREEDOM to choose who they wanted to serve.”

*record scratch*

I’ve been thinking a lot about that exchange. How it is that two arguably decent human beings can view the same situation from such different perspectives. What causes that? Where did those two roads diverge? And I guess the biggest question of all… how can you place more value on the freedom of a business (or, like in the state of TN, a mental health provider) to choose who they want to serve than you place on the needs of underserved and marginalized populations?

This all led me to thinking about where we currently are as a society. So divisive in our thoughts and conversations and behaviors, it’s as though there’s no room for respectful discourse anymore, much less the possibility of being open to changing our minds – or at LEAST seeing things from another perspective. Like, politics and religion and “alternative lifestyles” are off-limits, because how dare you question what I believe! How can you challenge yourself to grow, if you’re not willing to listen to other sides? How can you be so firmly entrenched in your beliefs when you won’t venture outside your comfort zone? Why are you so afraid to admit you might be wrong, or that you might be a racist, or at the very least, contributing to the systemic racism that is so pervasive in our country? Why does it have to be one thing or the other? Why can’t people see that just because you criticize something or someone, it doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the good, as well.

Constructive criticism is as important as critical thinking, and I think our society is drastically lacking in both right now.

A lot of this can be attributed to what I have dubbed “snapshot thinking.” You know, the way we only get little bits and pieces of information, usually stuff that is already in keeping with existing belief systems and usually from sources that align with bias, and we just let that further affirm that we are correct and everyone else is wrong. Like, for instance, people who are convinced that WE ARE IN DANGER AND EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE AND WE MUST BE SAVED, despite evidence to the contrary:

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/07/psychology-why-americans-afraid-low-crime-levels.html

The snapshot thinking comes into play with the internet, too. You’re only getting snapshots of the lives people are leading, and it’s only what they want you to see. Facebook? Snapshots. Instagram? Definitely snapshots. Twitter? 140 character snapshots. And if you don’t take the time to investigate and flush out the picture with research and questions and critical thought, then you’re left to fill in the blanks with your own bias and assumptions.

This never turns out well.

It’s my understanding that, as humans, we’ve evolved to make snap judgments in times of danger. But so much has happened to complicate that process that now we rely on it for our entire existence. We don’t ask probing questions. We instead get lazy and expect the little bits and pieces to suffice when it comes to educating ourselves, whether about the world around us, the community in which we live, or the people we profess to love. Snapshot thinking – the satisfaction with bits and pieces that likely reaffirm what we’ve already assumed, because we are quick to dismiss anything that challenges us in any real meaningful way – is corroding our ability to relate, our desire and ability empathize with others.

But we need connection, now more than ever. We need to be willing to learn, to grow, to be challenged. We need to ask questions, and we need to evaluate how our thinking and our behavior might be contributing to the marginalization of others. Doing so does not take anything away from who we are or what we have; instead, I like to think it adds to our character, makes us better as humans.

I find myself conducting my own cost/benefit analyses on different areas of my life. Should we get a cat, or should we get two? (Notice I didn’t ask whether or not we should get one at all…) What are the costs associated with one vs. two, and what are the benefits? (Final answer TBD next weekend, but probably the answer is TWO.) Should I continue the MSW program, knowing it’s no longer the actual path I want to pursue, but also knowing what I learn would lend itself to my growth in the human services field and as a human being? (No.) Should I return to Facebook, knowing it was such a chaotic and disconnected experience before, but also knowing that most of my friends rely on it for communication and otherwise we’re all just out of touch with each other? (Yes. And so far, so good. Mostly.)

And, finally, what are the costs of having these difficult conversations with people I love? What are the benefits? Is it better to just keep everyone comfortable in their existing beliefs? Should I just worry about myself and my own expansion and growth as a human, or is there a moral responsibility to try and bring others along?

Final thought, courtesy of John Gruber on Twitter, and it’s honestly something that should drive home what racism looks like to ANYONE, if you think about it long, hard, and well enough: What if, instead of Trump, Barack Obama were the one with three wives and five kids between them? What would the discourse look like then?

Equity Equality and Justice

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I think my heart is ready for “My Piece of Land.”

On March 15, 2014, I heard Amanda Shires for the first time.

The day before, I’d made my way from Nashville to Chattanooga for the weekend. I was in the throes of feeling heartsick; on the outside it appeared to be about one thing, but the truth is, it was about everything. It was every failed relationship, every denial and dismissal, every “thanks, but no thanks.” I was also in the throes of growth, although I didn’t know that yet; all I knew was, I hurt.

And it was through that hurt that I first truly connected to Jason Isbell and his album, Southeastern. Every word, every note rang true through the hollows of my tender, aching heart, and it was like I’d finally found an outlet; it was just borne of someone else’s pain. It’d been a long time since I’d felt that connection to an artist of any kind; pretty much since my high school years when it felt like everything was terrible and hard, and the whole world of music seemed to get it. I hadn’t cried to an album since Jeff Buckley’s Grace.

But through my own past of addiction, through my own lifetimes of heartache, through the loss and through redemption – or at least, the hope of it – I connected to Southeastern. I dug through a lot of Isbell’s older stuff, too, like “Goddamn Lonely Love” and “Save it for Sunday,” among others, but man. Southeastern really nailed it.

And so, with my sad little heart in tow, I drove to Chattanooga for the weekend to hole up in a hotel room and attend the Isbell show at Track 29 the next night. I was already tender when I showed up, and I was (surprisingly, oddly) surrounded by a lot of rowdy cowboys and cowgirls, whoopin’ and hollerin’ and generally raising hell. I was, in all honesty, baffled. How in the hell do you get that response to Jason’s music? Why wasn’t everyone else showing up solemn and affected like me? I didn’t get it.

And so, the feeling of “apart-ness” grew.

Enter Amanda Shires. I’d never heard her music before that night, but I proceeded to stand there and cry through her entire set. With all of her charm, wit, and sweet engaging way, I was just too wide open to the music to do anything else. “If I” threw me over the edge and I gave up on coming back; I was endeared and busted, all at once. When Jason joined her on stage for a few songs, the hope and promise they represented with their own story of “overcoming” was almost more than I could bear, but it was also exactly what I knew I wanted and needed: hope. I couldn’t make it through all of Jason’s set, though, because by the time I heard the song I wanted to hear most, I was pretty well snotty and destroyed and needed a drink before heading back to my room for the night.

Since then, I’ve had Jason and Amanda on repeat, and have gone to see them perform at the Ryman for the last two years in a row. Their music carried me through some tough and interesting times, to be sure. The interesting (and potentially weird) part is that, over the last few years, I’ve probably had 15-20 dreams about the two of them, and in each dream, we are all friends. The situations change, and some are stranger than others, but in every one, we are connected.

I like to think it’s because their music and their story supported me the way a friend would, through a lot of really challenging moments. I carried their music with me and, as a result, I began to heal. (Of course, I was doing a lot of hard work, too, not to mention experiencing the very worst relationship which, I think, carved out room and willingness to now receive the very best).

So it’s almost as though the timing of Jason’s new album, Something More than Free, perfectly coincided with a shift in my own life and perspective. That album is so different from the previous, and yet so similar to the ones that came before – but better. It threw me for a bit of a loop when I first heard it, but I realized I, too, was ready to move on. Back to the person I was before, but better.

I honestly thought I was at the point where maybe I could just enjoy their music without it being so attached to the feels, because you know what? Life is good. I’ve grown and changed, and between the new job and the perfect fit of a love, it seems like the need to connect by way of some music had moved along.

That is, until I heard a new track from Amanda’s upcoming album. She played this one and another at the Ryman last fall, so I knew what I was in for, but it wasn’t til last night when it finally hit me and all sunk in that this, I think, is the record I’ve been waiting for. It’s the logical conclusion; the bow you wrap around the present. It’s the one where SHE lays it all bare, comes to terms and peace, and without even hearing the whole thing, I just kinda know it’s going to be exactly what I need.

So come September 16th, I’ll add it to the CD player in my car, along with another two of hers and three of Jason Isbell’s intertwined to tell the story, and I’ll likely sniffle my way through the album release in October. And it will be then that I can marvel at just how far I’ve come, all the while in the company of that perfect fit of a love and the friends I’ve never met but couldn’t be more grateful for.